DP15613 Heroes and Villains: The Effects of Combat Heroism on Autocratic Values and Nazi Collaboration in France

Author(s): Julia Cagé, Anna Dagorret, Pauline Grosjean, Saumitra Jha
Publication Date: December 2020
Keyword(s): Autocracy, Democratic Values, Heroes, identity, leaders, Legitimacy, networks, Votes
JEL(s): D74, L14, N44
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15613

Can heroes legitimize strongly-proscribed and repugnant political behaviors? We exploit the purposefully arbitrary rotation of French regiments to measure the legitimizing effects of heroic credentials. 53% of French line regiments happened to rotate under a specific general, Philippe Pétain, during the pivotal WWI battle of Verdun (1916). Using recently-declassified intelligence data on 95,314 individuals, we find the home municipalities of regiments serving under Pétain at Verdun raised 7% more Nazi collaborators during the Pétain-led Vichy regime (1940-44). The effects are similar across joining Fascist parties, German forces, paramilitaries that hunted Jews and the Resistance, and collaborating economically. These municipalities also increasingly vote for right-wing parties between the wars. The voting effects persist after WWII, becoming particularly salient during social crises. We argue these results reflect the complementary role of the heroes of Verdun in legitimizing and diffusing the authoritarian values of their former leader.